Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hello, My Identity Is

I've always been fascinated by names. When the movie's over and the credits are rolling, I sit there just to watch the names. Every Memorial Day I take a notebook to the cemetery with me so I can write down all the cool ones. I visit baby name websites more often than most pregnant women. A few weeks ago, a girl named Xantha transferred into my choir class. While everyone else sat around going "What's wrong with her parents?" I'm thinking, "Ooh, cool, that's a variant of Xanthe, which means yellow and was the name of Socrates' wife."
Most of us don't chose our legal names, but we do create usernames. When you make an account, you're usually more interested in choosing a good password than a name. I just type my favorite nouns, maybe my initials, and add on some numbers if those are already taken.
When I run into people with usernames like jerryberryboggerbottom, I have to wonder. Why did you chose those words to represent yourself to the entire Internet?
My name is Erica. When I created my first blog three years ago, I used the name Eliza, mostly for privacy reasons. Besides, half the fun of the Internet is choosing an alias. And in a world where deathdonkey13 is a perfectly acceptable name I see nothing wrong with Eliza.
This has caused some problems for me. When I recommend my blogs to people, I have to let them know it's under a different name. And since blogger is with google, whenever I sign in with google to leave a comment elsewhere, I'm Eliza. I enter a lot of book giveaways online. When I win, I have to explain to my favorite authors why I use a fake name. Otherwise-
"Erica, a package came from Arizona today. It's addressed to your middle name. Care to explain?"
My middle name's actually Elizabeth. But I'm a fan of symmetry and I like that they have the same number of letters. After three years of going by Eliza, I have to remind myself that it's Elizabeth whenever I fill out forms. I've caught myself saying Eliza when people ask for my middle name-but not before it's left my lips.
Eliza is a blogger. Eliza is opinionated. Eliza is snarky. Eliza is passionate about the world and her place in it. Eliza wins arguments online. Eliza gets free, autographed copies of her favorite books, sometimes before they officially come out. In the beginning, she was just a name, like goldenspiral and CaterpillarStar all the other usernames I've created over the years. But now she's an identity. A vital, distinct part of my being that I've bothered to name.
Today I was musing on some of the usernames I've seen, like goodgodlessgal and queerjock. The Internet is the one place where you can be utterly and completely anonymous. So why define yourself by your sexual and religious beliefs? People will form opinions based on your username when they know nothing else about you. Is it leverage, so you can win an argument by claiming other users are biased? Or is it truly the most important part of your identity? What about favorite sports, favorite TV shows, favorite books-
Then I thought of all the other usernames I've seen. Lakersfan8. SherlockLives. There are people who use things to define them as well, and I'm one of them. The Hourglass Door trilogy by Lisa Mangum was my favorite series a few years back. Golden Spiral is the second book. And CaterpillarStar? I didn't just pick nouns, I remember now. I like caterpillars because they fascinating creatures, but nobody appreciates them when they're not in adult form. The rest of the Internet was never in on the joke, but those names meant something to me.
I thought about all the famous people in the world who go by aliases. Pen names, stage names, street names, nicknames, legal names they've bothered to change. A name is so much more than a way to call out for a friend. When you name yourself, especially on the Internet, you define who you are. You decide whether your favorite TV show is a more significant part of your identity than your race. If your team is more important than your religion. If you'd rather abandon any clues to your identity and just use a favorite quote.
Labels don't define people. People define themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts! When I see clever online names people have given themselves, I just wonder why I can't come up with anything creative or clever? I guess I am just me - take it or leave it.